Fox News, which has taken every opportunity to stoke controversy over mundane aspects of health reform’s implementation, is now going so far as to attribute things to Obamacare that are entirely unrelated to it.
On Monday morning, Fox News host Stuart Varney falsely asserted that the health reform law is forcing large companies to drop health insurance plans for their retired employees. Varney, who is one of the network’s business analysts, claimed that Obamacare is hiking health costs and ultimately putting an end to the era of guaranteed benefits from big-name employers.
Over the weekend, news broke that that IBM plans to end its current health coverage model for retired employees. The company says that its workforce is aging and its health costs for Medicare-eligible retirees will triple by 2020. Instead of continuing to provide health plans for those retirees, IBM is opting to save money by shifting those people over to Medicare plans. IBM will make annual contributions to a retirement health fund to help older works purchase those alternative insurance plans, though either Medicare Advantage or a private Medicare exchange.
During her segment with Varney, anchor Martha MacCallum noted that this marks “the beginning of a complete overhaul of insurance as we know it in this country.” Even though IBM is shifting employee plans to Medicare exchanges — and not the state-level insurance exchanges created under Obamacare that will open for enrollment next month — Varney laid the blame entirely at the feet of health reform law:
VARNEY: An era is coming to an end. Let’s go back to the beginning here. Obamacare did not lower the cost of health care. In some respects, as Obamacare approaches, the cost of health care is actually going up. Along comes IBM and Time-Warner and some other big name companies too, who now say — okay, you work for us, and you get the traditional health care coverage. But when you when you retire, you lose that health care coverage. We will give you a lump sum payment and you can go and spend it however you’d like in any plan in the healthcare exchange. But the old days of lifetime health care coverage from your big-name employer, that’s gone. It is the end of an era.
MACCULLUM: And apparently they’ll have until the end of the year to begin this process. And it’s very unnerving, of course, for people who have counted on that and now just have so much anxiety and so many questions about what this really means for them and how it’s all going to work.
VARNEY: Well, they’re up in the air. Take IBM employees, for example. They don’t find out until October 1st how much this lump sum payment is going to be. And then they’ve got to fund out how where they can spend it, what kind of plans are being offered by this private health exchange. The bottom line is, though, that Obamacare did not lower healthcare costs. And now companies are cutting those costs, and to some degree, individuals are paying the price.
In fact, IBM’s move is completely unrelated to Obamacare. The company may certainly be struggling with high costs, but it’s unlikely they stem directly from the health reform law. Although the cost of health care has been steadily increasing over the past decade, there’s actually significant evidence that Obamacare has helped stem that rise in recent years. The inflation rate for health premiums for employer-sponsored insurance plans is slowing, and Medicare’s projected spending between 2010 and 2020 has dropped by over $500 billion.
Furthermore, IBM employees are not actually being shifted into Obamacare’s public insurance marketplaces. The enrollment period that begins on October 1st has nothing to do with their new Medicare plans.
The media often jumps on companies’ decisions to cut health benefits as a sign that Obamacare isn’t working — and some of the companies themselves have used the health reform law as an excuse to justify their moves. But it just isn’t true. Unrelated to Obamacare, large employers have been attempting to cut their health costs and experimenting with corporate insurance exchanges for years. Since the health law currently provides a convenient scapegoat for entirely unrelated aspects of the country’s insurance market, Obamacare opponents are happy to continue pushing the false narratives.